On Fandom, Loss, Redemption, and the Power of Sports—A Love Story

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This is my first Red Sox cap. I got it in 1977, when I was 13 years old, and seriously, it’s a miracle that it survived the ensuing years and all that came with them. 

It is cheaply made, constructed of genuine 100% polyester, imported from Korea. The sides and back are mesh, and the Red Sox’ familiar “B” is glued on, a pale imitation of the club’s authentic headwear decoration.

It bears witness to decades of devoted fandom. The last time that it sat atop my head was at least forty years ago. I had much more hair then. For some forgotten reason I saved it. It moved with me—to college, to my first apartment, to a house, to my current abode.

I grew up in Yonkers, New York—eleven miles due north of Yankee Stadium. My late father was a devout Yankees fan who regaled me with tales of past Bronx Bomber glory. One of my earliest baseball memories involves he and I walking among the fabled Monuments, then located in the field of play, at the old, old, original Yankee Stadium, in the fall of 1973. My formative years as a baseball fan coincided with the resurgence of the Yankee franchise, surrounded by—yes—obnoxious, arrogant, and newly empowered Yankee fans.

My family and I spent the heart of summer out on the eastern end of Long Island, in Montauk, NY, years before it became a trendy destination for the hip and fabulous. My father worked during the week in Manhattan, leaving the rest of us behind to do what families were supposed to do during the summer: beach, barbeques, pool, play. Rinse, repeat, day after day after day. These were the middle years of the 70s, long before cable television found its way to the eastern end of Long Island. The only broadcast TV came from across Long Island Sound, from distant Providence, Rhode Island. I fell in love with the Red Sox, watching the games and listening to the calm, reassuring voices of broadcasters Ned Martin and Jim Woods on WTEV, Channel 6.

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The summer of 1975 was magical. I watched the Red Sox upend the mighty Oakland A’s in the American League Championship Series on a small black and white set in my grandmother’s apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan. I saw Fisk’s homer and the disappointment of Game 7 at home, on a slightly bigger but still monochromatic TV.

1976 was a down season. 1977 was fun, but unsuccessful, even if I did get shortstop Rick Burleson’s autograph, down by the visitor’s dugout at Yankee Stadium. 1978, the Mother of All Chokes. The first games I ever attended at Fenway were the final two games of the infamous Boston Massacre, September 9 and 10, 1978. I had a front row seat and I took this photo to commemorate the pain for all eternity. The Red Sox are down 7-4 and George Scott stands in the batter’s box, two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. He will soon draw a walk, but two batters later the game will be over. The Yankees will have swept the Red Sox and several weeks later Bucky Bleepin’ Dent will step into the very same batter’s box and drive a stake right through the heart of what was not yet called Red Sox Nation.

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The years rolled by and my memories and ticket stubs tell the story. I won’t get into details here, but I watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series in a room full of Mets fans at a friend’s apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. That went exactly as you might think it would have.

I won’t bore you with details of what the years brought forth. 1995 was fun, but I saw Cleveland complete the sweep at Fenway in the first year of MLB’s Division Series. I was there in 1998 for another playoff loss, again to Cleveland. The next season was special—I was in Boston for July’s historic All-Star Game and I was there a few months later when, once again, the Yankees beat the Red Sox (this time with a new and painful twist, in the postseason.)

2003. I saw Pedro toss Zimmer to the ground, from a seat that afforded me a really terrific view. I had an opportunity to go to the decisive Game 7 in The Bronx but had a bad feeling about it and took a pass. Good move.

The following season—Game 3 ALCS. I was again at Fenway, watching New York pummel the hapless Red Sox 19-8. 19 to 8=“1918.” I stayed until the bitter end, the final out. Then, over the course of the next 96 hours, hell froze over as the next four games produced four Boston victories. I had another opportunity to attend a decisive Game 7 in The Bronx. I went. Good move.

October 27, 2004, Busch Memorial Stadium, St Louis, Missouri. Directly below me are Boston outfielders Gabe Kapler, wearing uniform number 19, and Johnny Damon, clad in uniform number 18. Nineteen eighteen. Seriously. I took this photo from the front row of the upper deck in right:

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I went to the first two games of the 2007 World Series in Boston, then saw the Red Sox complete another Fall Classic sweep, surrounded by like-minded partisans in a bar in New York’s East Village. The place went nuts and everyone sang Aerosmith’s “Dream On” approximately 487 times without cease after the final out was recorded.

October 30, 2013, Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts. The third World Championship of the still young millennium. I took this photo from my seat, Section 8, Row 7, Seat 16:

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Fan identity is a funny thing. In 2005, I recall telling a friend of mine—a diehard White Sox fan—that a World Series win would change the whole persona of his fandom. The sense of urgency to win just once, just once before I die! Done. Perseverance pays, as long as we occupy just the right life span. As is the case with so many things in life, timing is everything.

And so the Boston Red Sox are participating in their fourth World Series in the past fifteen years, an unimaginable turn of events to me, the man who was once the kid who once wore that cheap ratty cap. Remember the cap?

October 13, 2018. Opportunity knocks again. I painted the pitching rubber at Fenway Park prior to Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. Memories come flooding back from across the decades, many of them centered right here on this spot, 42.3467° N, 71.0972° W.

  Photo credit: Alex Bierens de Haan

Photo credit: Alex Bierens de Haan

Curses are shattered, streaks are broken, identities and perceptions are transformed, but my first cap endures—an improbable survivor and a relic that spans nearly a lifetime of fandom.

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Addendum:
October 28, 2018, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California. The fourth World Championship of the still young millennium. I took this photo from my seat, Section Reserve 4, Row F, Seat 9:

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